Video: Spinning Gold In Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar


Earlier this year in Istanbul, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a man who spins gold thread at the Grand Bazaar. His noisy workshop is tucked into a courtyard off one of the bazaar’s main “streets,” past a few jewelry kiosks and before a reasonably clean but squat-style toilet. Huge fan belts crisscross the room and antique machines creak and spin spools of thread in metallic and bright colors; the spinner (a former footballer, I later learned) works the room like a conductor. Seeing me and my baby peeking in, he ushered us in to have a closer look and took our photo looking around in awe. I had no need for thread (gold or otherwise) and had a slight fear one of us could lose an eye if we hung around the Ottoman-esque machines too long, but it was a treat to find. Dim light made for poor photos, so I was thrilled to find this video of the machine in action on guidebook extraordinaire Rick Steves’ Facebook page.

After living in Istanbul for more than two years as an expat, it took me a while to appreciate the Grand Bazaar as more than a horrible tourist trap. The key to finding the magic in the Grand Bazaar is discovering the nooks and crannies most visitors miss in their hunt for “authentic” souvenirs (likely made in China) and inexpensive fez hats (forget about the irony that the fez was banned here as a means of modernizing and secularizing the country when it became a republic). If you look hard, you’ll still find real artisans, centuries-old family businesses and relics from former empires. If you want to find this guy, leave me a comment and I’ll try to leave a bread trail to him.

Fact vs. Fiction: The Bazaars of Istanbul, Turkey

Shopping in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul will overload your senses. Colors, shapes, smells and sounds approach you from every direction in what can only be described as immersion in consumption. The bad news, however, is that the touts are waiting for you. Cast a wayward glance at any nice rug and someone will chase you down the hall trying to strike a deal. The result is an experience that’s slightly colored by trying to manage respectful bartering and curious shopping at the same time.

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[flickr images via governmentality and blackpower2010]

Luxury Vacation Guide 2012: Istanbul

Travel like a modern sultan with design-conscious hotels, bespoke shopping, and high-end dining at the crossroads of two continents: Istanbul, Turkey.

In 2010, Istanbul made headlines in every travel magazine and newspaper as it was home to one of the European Capitals of Culture. The influx of cash and visitors meant dozens of new hotels, art galleries, museums, and world-class restaurants. As many European countries’ economies have seen trouble in the last year, the Turkish Tiger is booming. Visitors today can relive the glory days of travel in the restored Pera Palace Hotel, built for the Orient Express passengers, or luxuriate in modern style with a water view at the House Hotel Bosphorus. Marvel at the jewel-encrusted treasures at Topkapı Palace and pick up something for your own royal residence at Paşabahçe, where home goods run from a few lira for a çay glass to thousands for a mosaic-tiled Ottoman-inspired vase; or invest in artisanal, limited-edition jewelry and textiles at Armaggan. Sample Turkish classics with a modern twist at Lokanta Maya for shared mezes or at the Michelin-standard Mimolett restaurant and wine boutique. If you haven’t put on too much weight from all the fantastic food, you can commission a bespoke suit, leather jacket, or customized pair of shoes at the Grand Bazaar or on the back streets of Nişantaşı, Istanbul’s fashion district. While no longer a budget travel destination, Istanbul has something to offer every taste, from an elaborate dinner aboard a private yacht to the simple (and cheap) pleasure of a ferry ride between continents.

[flickr image via Witt Istanbul Suites]

Interesting indoor spaces around the world

indoor spacesI love the outdoors, to the extent that I tend to bypass or overlook exceptional indoor spaces when I’m traveling or recounting a great trip. Fortunately, Lonely Planet author/former Gadling contributor Leif Pettersen’s recent list on LP’s website has reminded me that—as many a grandmother has said—beauty is on the inside.

Pettersen says only in recent years has he developed a special appreciation for the indoors. He had ample time to contemplate his new interest “during two sadistically cold weeks last winter when I voluntarily confined myself to the Minneapolis Skyway System as a livability experiment for an article I was working on.”

He’s since started a list of “singular, practical” indoor spaces (traveloguebookdealforthewin!) of note, including (obviously) Minneapolis’ Skyway System (“The largest contiguous skyway system in the world, connecting what may be the largest contiguous indoor space anywhere.”); Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar; Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure; NYC’s Grand Central Terminal (aka Grand Central Station); St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and the Queen Mary 2. Here’s to keeping warm indoors this winter.

[Photo credit: Flickr user davedehetre]

Indoor Skydiving

Retail therapy: Istanbul ShoppingFest begins March 18

Istanbul shoppingfestEvery year, many people visit Istanbul to shop in the historic Grand Bazaar to haggle over carpets, Turkish tea glasses, and souvenir t-shirts. But most locals do their shopping in Istanbul’s many malls, markets, high streets like Istiklal near Taksim Square and Bağdat on the Asian side, and neighborhoods such as posh Nişantaşı and funky Çukurcuma. This year, from March 18 to April 26, travelers can take advantage of the best of all worlds with the first Istanbul ShoppingFest, also celebrating the 550th birthday of the Grand Bazaar. For 40 days, shoppers can get special discounts and win prizes, shop late into the night (with bigger discounts after 10pm), and be entertained with performances and events. Each Saturday, one mall each on the European and Asian sides will stay open until 2am, and all malls will be open until 11pm daily during the fest. In addition to sale prices, foreign travelers can get tax back on purchases at various malls around the city and enter raffles with each 40 TL (about $25 USD) spent.

Already established in India, Singapore, and Dubai in usual sale seasons, Istanbul’s promotion will hold a special draw as discounts will apply to new season merchandise and take place over several major holidays including Easter, Passover, and Iranian Nowruz. With this festival, Turkey hopes to carry over some of the momentum from last year’s European Capital of Culture designation, and become the destination of choice for travelers from nearby countries such as Russia, Iran, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Rumania, Syria and Iraq.

Check out more details and events at www.istshopfest.com and follow their Facebook page and Twitter @istshopfest. See also the March issue of Time Out Istanbul in English for feature guides to the fest and the Grand Bazaar.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user antonystanley]